Joseph hasn’t told his counsellor about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. He hasn’t really spoken about it with family either. But he spoke to the Commissioner because ‘all this stuff is wrong and something needs to be done about it. Otherwise it’s going to keep happening to other people’.
When Joseph was around seven years old in the 1990s, he and his Aboriginal mother and sister moved to a new town in the Northern Territory. Because of behavioural problems, Joseph was always getting shifted to different schools. At the age of 10 he was diagnosed with ADHD and given medication, but he didn’t always take it because of the side effects.
He was 12 when he first got involved with juvenile justice. He had started hanging around with older kids and, with them, was driving stolen cars and damaging property. He was taken to a youth detention centre.
At around this time Joseph attended a three-day government-run youth camp. There, he was sexually abused by one of the instructors, Scott Grant. Joseph found this humiliating and didn’t tell anyone.
Joseph spent his teenage years in and out of detention. ‘The officers there … been boxers and fighters and they just want to come and punish.’ Joseph was sexually abused by staff members several times.
Again, he didn’t tell anyone. He didn’t find the one caseworker – who worked for all the detainees – helpful or trustworthy. ‘They don’t make the effort to sit down and see if someone’s all right, see if they need help …’ He wasn’t provided with counselling. Some of the officers were all right to talk to but Joseph didn’t want them speaking to the other officers about him. Eventually he did speak to someone about the sexual abuse.
‘The only reason it came out was because I just ended up breaking down. I mean, I had to get it out … So it wasn’t a decision … couldn’t hold it in any longer.’
Joseph was in jail when he spoke to the Commissioner. He had recently decided to speak up about the abuse and reported it to police. He’d been told that Scott Grant, his instructor at the camp, denied the allegation so the police ‘couldn’t do anything’. And there was no evidence to support his story of abuse at the detention centre, so that would not be pursued either.
Joseph feels one of the main impacts of the sexual abuse was ‘not being able to mature, took me a longer time to mature and holding stuff in made me more violent’. In jail he has done an anger management course which he found helpful. But he doesn’t feel safe.
‘The only way to get safe is don’t get into arguments with people, don’t fight with people. The only difference [between detention and prison] is these officers have more weapons and uniforms and more officers and there’s more prisoners here.’
Joseph has been getting into less trouble than he used to. He has also recently started seeing a counsellor, which he finds helpful, but to whom he has not disclosed the abuse.
While in detention Joseph would have liked more education to do with his Aboriginal culture. There was only one cultural program while he was there all those years. ‘It went for a couple of weeks and that’s it.’ In jail he finds ‘only the real dark-skinned countrymen get stuff in here. Even if you’re Indigenous and you’ve ended up light-skinned, like most of us … we don’t get nothing’, he told the Commissioner. ‘For people like us light-skinned people that haven’t grown up out bush, we don’t get to learn nothing.’
Joseph’s mother lives a long way away but she flies or drives to visit him every now and then. His family and his lawyers are his greatest support. He also has a few mates in prison with him.
Joseph would like to see more support for people when they leave youth detention or jail, such as mentorships, training and jobs. ‘You’ve got to initiate that stuff. Jails and that don’t initiate anything for you when you get out, to help you … People just get chucked out the front gate. You’re on your way with nothing.’